Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Transparency "Conspiracy"?

You'll recall that I recently wrote, HERE, about the revelation announced by Costa Mesa Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell, that the City's web site had been evaluated by an industry "watchdog" as an "A+" - up from an "F". I was pretty excited to share that news with you because I'd observed many times in recent weeks that the city site was, in fact, much more easily-used and was packed with timely, useful information. Sometimes we didn't like some of the news presented in the flurry of press releases, but we were getting information, for sure.

I was not alone in that enthusiasm, as the Daily Pilot editors took the time to praise The City for this new accolade
, HERE. We - they and I - were almost giddy about this news.


Then came a grumbling... a comment was posted on the Daily
Pilot editorial and, almost simultaneously, on my blog, alerting us to the fact that the "watchdog" web site referred to was, in fact, a "wiki" site - one on which content could be provided by almost anyone, and that Lobdell may have been the provider of the information that subsequently garnered that lofty rating.

I followed the link and found that, sure enough, Lobdell HAD been the person who input the data on the site that changed the rating from an "F" to an "A+". However, I didn't see a problem here - as far as I could tell, there was no attempt to hide the fact that he did the input and, quite honestly, I thought this was a perfectly appropriate activity for a PR guy - as long as the information provided was accurate. It was a "non-issue" and I hadn't planned to comment on it.

Then, yesterday, I received an email from a guy named Andrew Glazer, a former Daily Pilot reporter who covered Costa Mesa in the 1990s - when Lobdell was the editor - and who apparently now is a producer for what's left of Dan Rather's career on HDNET. It turned out that he was the author of the blog comments on both the Daily Pilot and my blog alerting us to this fact. Separately, he had written to the Daily Pilot, chiding them for sloppy reporting. He said, in part, "It's a disservice to your readers to not have looked into the Web site you cited -- and the apparent impetus for your editorial. In your crusade for transparency, will you disclose this oversight and point out Lobdell's far-from-transparent attempts to burnish his town's image?" He provided me with a copy of that correspondence and we, he and I, exchanged comments back and forth.

And, still, I planned to not write anything about this because the information Lobdell provided to the Sunshine Review was accurate - he took an empty te
mplate (the reason for the "F") and filled in the blanks with accurate information. It seemed to me that Glazer's intrusion into this issue might be tinged with some personal animus from his time working at the Daily Pilot - maybe not, but I had a little whiff of that from the correspondence.

Then came a piece by Chasen Marshall in the OC Weekly today, HERE, in which he postulates that "Lobdell failed to include in the announcement was that Sunshine Review and its transparency grades lack any actual credibility", which changed my mind about commenting. That was followed shortly by a piece by Joe Serna in the Daily Pilot, HERE, addressing this subject. I knew that one was probably coming - I was quoted in it.


So, after all that preamble, here's my take on this. First, I see NOTHING wrong wi
th what Lobdell did. He's a PR guy, charged with "burnishing the image", to use Glazer's pejorative, of his client - the City of Costa Mesa. And, we all know that the image has needed a lot of burnishing lately - more than ever before in its history. Lobdell found a site that showed our city to be an "F" in "transparency", discovered it was because there was NO information in its data base, so did what he should have done - fixed that problem - he filled in the blanks.

Should he have
mentioned it in his press release? Probably. He could have said something like, "I found this watchdog site that inaccurately assessed Costa Mesa because there was no information in its data base, so I submitted accurate information, which resulted in this outstanding grade." - or words to that effect. But he didn't. And, following a lengthy conversation with him about this, I'm convinced that there was no "conspiracy". If there had been, he would have used another name to submit the information.


I know there will be an outcry from members of the public on this, but, in my opinion, it's a non-story. Quite the contrary, it's one more reason to compliment Lobdell and the rest of the city team for the efforts they are making toward CEO Tom Hatch's goal of "being the most transparent city in the country".

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Anonymous Mike 1 said...

I would say it's a non-story if he had cited his involvement in what he did (i.e. shown transparency). However, seems like he's gaming the system just a bit. Then again, nothing's shocking around here anymore.

8/24/2011 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Danny Boy said...

Like everything else in Costa Mesa and the City Council of Costa Mesa.. leaves a bad taste in my mouth. AGAIN... and again.. hypocrisy at its finest. Does it surprise me? No, doesn't it sicken me.. yes.

8/24/2011 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous My Opinion said...

DP says "Geoff West, a frequent City Hall critic"

They got that right.

This will show that the Haters will hate. No matter what, Council is bad, very bad. Sad really

One thing I know is that Geoff cannot and does not live up to the standards he holds others to. Just like Greg Ridge, Sandy or Nick. Sad really

8/24/2011 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous RickandJenn said...

What? I didn't follow any of that.

Slow news day, I guess.

8/24/2011 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Pentagon Hexagram said...

I can see right through this one.

8/24/2011 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous RickandJenn said...

Speaking of transparency, did anyone else get the latest PR blast with the letter exchange regarding the outsourcing committees? Helen Nenedahl (sp?) is absolutely awful. What department does that lady work in?To think she is an employee of our City is terrifying. She has no manners as she attacks our City manager and throws arrow after arrow. So sad she represents our employees. She needs to be outsourced first!!!

8/24/2011 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike O'Reilly said...

So, essentially, Costa Mesa/Lobdell, rated itself? If I want to promote the Mike O'Reilly Marching and Chowder Society, all I need do is submit whatever information I please to this humbug organization? And a last question: Do I sense desperation at city hall?

8/24/2011 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Spin, Lobdell, spin!

Rant, Riggy, rant!

Smirk, Menssy, smirk!

Kneel, Monahan, kneel!

Hide, Bever, hide!

8/24/2011 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Let's be transparent RickandJenn said...

RickandJenn- who are you? What department do you work for? You sound "so darn" articulate... (Yah, as atriculate as a frog muppet at Taxpayer's Association Meeting)...Quit demonizing employees- this is not about creating an atmosphere of hatred- or is it? You and the OCGOP (which I WAS a member of) have an agenda.

8/24/2011 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Dear Mom,

My writing career career is really taking off!

Today alone, a high profile, very well-written and highly regarded local publication, owned and operated by a guy quoted in other local publications, published SEVERAL of my pieces!

Oh and by the way- it publishes almost ALL comments submitted.. :>

8/24/2011 08:59:00 PM  
Anonymous TruthOrTruthiness? said...

Geoff Your friendship with Lobdell is blinding you to how this comes across. Keep this ujp and you'll be excusing Millard because hes just doing what he gets paid to do.

8/24/2011 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous The Emperor's New Clothes said...

I see this as more serious, building a delusion,expecting the trusting public to accept it.
Delusions of the whole public voting for them or the power trip from the dias. Now, self awarding and promoting it. Police calls, kids, chest bumping good luck to anyone who doesn't believe. The reality may drive you crazy

8/24/2011 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous unanimous said...

right out of the union playbook and spokehole Muir. At least it not a false story, just incomplete. Muir just makes things up.

8/24/2011 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

I don't think so... I knew how this news would be received - that's why I hadn't planned to post about it, but the OC Weekly and the DP articles forced my hand. I was satisfied that Lobdell did what was expected of a guy in his role and didn't deceive anyone. Yes, he's a friend, but I challenge him on stuff going on in the city all the time. If I had been "blinded" I would have said nothing. I chose, instead, to explain the FACTS as I know them. That's the best I can do...

8/24/2011 10:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Touche said...

Spin, Joe, spin!

Rant, Joe, rant!

Smirk, Joe, smirk!

Kneel, Joe, kneel!

Hide, Joe, hide!

8/24/2011 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous A is for awesome said...

Since we get to grade ourselves now, I give myself an A+ for the snarkiness of my comments- up from a C before all this drama began. YAY ME!!!! I deserve a scholarship now.

8/24/2011 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous big brother and old man are watching said...

I think that's what makes you the right guy.
Give them enough rope and they will hang themselves as the saying goes. Thre is no way to keep up by reading the paper. You are insiteful and fair. You bring a historical perspective with you and knowlege of past events and you care responsably about the community.
They keep taking the rope, lobdell keeps spinning it, as told, and sooner or later it will catch up to them. The old council policy 100-6 is a pefect example.

Good to know someone is watching
thank you

8/24/2011 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger feral390 said...

I did the same thing on my Jr. High report card. I changed the D- I got in math to a B-.
I hope my mom doesn't read this.

8/25/2011 05:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Doomsday said...

RickandJenn...I like this version better. Speaking of transparency, did anyone else get the latest PR blast with the letter exchange regarding the outsourcing committees? Tom Hatch is absolutely awful. To think he is an employee of our City is terrifying. He has no manners as he attacks a city employee who is only trying to do what is best for the other city employees she represents, and throws arrow after arrow. So sad he represents the management side and is a whipping boy for the council majority. He needs to be fired now!!!

8/25/2011 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

I DID get a copy of Hatch's 8/2411 letter to Helen... I disagree with your characterization. It is courteous and straightforward and invited further input.

8/25/2011 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike O'Reilly said...

Mr. Lobdell is a flack. He writes what people pay him to write. So should we congratulate him or our city for this new-found “transparency”? Not me. Because transparency is already assured in a democracy. WE are the government of Costa Mesa, and our city council and administration -- the people who work for us -- should have been transparent about OUR government long before Mr. Lobdell began churning out smiley-faced press releases. He and the city are trumpeting openness as some extra “benefit” -- a benefit we should have had in the first place. Nowhere is this more jaw-droppingly ludicrous than the current self-rating by Lobdell through the Sunshine Review. Who are these people? What panel of learned experts do they employ to rate municipalities? None that we know of. “[N]othing found here,” said the Sunshine Review, “has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information” (Cited in OC Weekly, 24 August 2011). So what’s our “A+” rating worth? As my old dad would say, about a buck three-eighty.

8/25/2011 08:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Doomsday said...

Geoff...I was only rewriting what RickandJenn said concerning the letter exchange between Helen and Hatch. It is funny how you defend Hatch,but have no problem with RickandJenn throwing Helen under the bus. Where was your support of her? Helen was only citing the council policy in which Hatch does not want to abide by. No where in the policy does it say that the representatives have to be City employees. I'm sure management will have several non-city employees on their side. Helen is just trying to even the playing field. That is her job as the CMEA representative.

8/25/2011 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

I'm not pleased that the adversarial relationship continues. We are at the point in the process that we should have begun at last spring. Unfortunately, we're moving forward with what may have been a hastily prepared policy for a situation that really doesn't exist today - but it's a starting point. I think Helen is an excellent representative for the CMCEA, working hard for her membership, but please don't try to convince me that she wrote ANY of those letters. Yeah, she allegedly signed them - even though her name was misspelled on the first couple until I pointed it out to them.

This process is moving fast - appropriately so, I think. Based on the limited information I have, I think there's a good chance that it may work. Since no word is coming out of the deliberations I guess we'll just have to wait.

The management side MAY have non-employees on their side, but they will be consultants hired to fill senior staff jobs earlier and filling the roles described in the policy.

8/25/2011 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous daryl said...

so much stuff. it's getting to the point of, does the general community even care anymore? Is everyone getting so sick and tired of hearing about all this that they don't even hear it anymore? well at least now that the carnies have left i'll go buy a case instead of a single beer for $10.

8/25/2011 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Thumper said...

My Opinion: Wish you would keep them to yourself. Stick to publishing CM Press and leave us alone.

8/25/2011 10:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Dp_rick said...

Of course this is a non-story, but the guy has to somehow justify his $3,000 a WEEK paycheck during a deep recession and unemployment at over 10%. The city claima to be broke yet they can afford a PR guy and legal services at well over $100,000 a month. I wish I could be that broke!

8/26/2011 08:18:00 AM  
Anonymous ILoveParrotBayNPineapple said...

Speaking of tranparency, how come the city isn't so transparent on the pay of all the outsourced staff working T city hall? Id like to know how much private contracting companies are charging us for the outsourced building inspectors, the outsourced HR staff, the outsourced legal services and so on.

From what I've read, HR services got $100k already and recently got approved for another $100k; legal services by Jones & Mayer at well over $100k a month and of coursw Lobdell at $3,000 a week.

Geoff, I know the city hired another law firm to defend the suit brought on by the union. Can we get a cost on that?

If they provided all of the above and a running tally for legal fees, THAT would be true transparency.

8/26/2011 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Box# 309 said...

Maybe DonShagMarshall could have his Hells Angel associates protect the city.

8/26/2011 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous TowerOTerror said...

I'd like to comment on rick&jenns, geoffs & doomsday comments about the letters between helen nenadal & hatch.

Ive been quietly following the drama at city hall and I can honestly say that Helen is a strong person. She is never rude to anyone and if she comes off that way lately, its more than likely because the council keeps pushing her. Lately, its been YELLING at her from the dias. Im referring to the last council meeting where righeimer yelled at a resident during his attack on her from the dias like a rabid dog.

Lets not forget shes putting herself out there when the other 213 employees who got pink slipped dont even bother getting up on the mic to help save their jobs. I dont blame the other 213 employees though because look what happened to larry grihalva (former ems coordinator) who got up to talk during a meeting speaking against righeimers campaign supporter who wanted to provide private ambulance service. He's been fired after a 30 day notice.

Geoff, I too am happy to see that the rfp committees are talking and doing their thing. Although im happy theyre meeting, deep down, I feel that its a waste of time unless council is required to act on their findings.

Having seen how this council reacts to anyone who is aganst them, I think we all know that theyll just do what they want to do. So unless the recommendation from the committee says to proceed with outsourcing to a private company, the recommendation will be "received & filed" filed in the trash can!

Thank you geoff for your informative blog and thank you Helen for fighting not only for the employees who are too scared to fight for themselves but also fighting for the residents who fear retaliation.

8/26/2011 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Doomsday said...

Geoff...I am wondering will the management side include the directors, managers and supervisors of the affected Departments such as Public Services and the CMPD for jail services? I am concerned that Hatch will have his hand picked, highly paid consultans representing manangement when they may not have the expertise in evaluating what is being outsourced.

8/26/2011 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Simple said...

What really happened is the RFP for the Building Department came back months ago. The results were they city would not save money by using outside consultants. Kim Brandt (then Development Services Director) told staff, they will sent them out again as they don't like the results. Seems to me.. that is against the law.

8/26/2011 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Simple is right said...

Simple is absolutely right. Just like the forensic auditor found the $26M with the help of employees, employees need to stop staying silent while the bulldozer continues to run them over. If you have info on suspicious activity, give it to the union, they will be your voice.

Employees need to realize the war is far from over and it is a war being fought everyday. I cant believe the nerve of the councilmen walking around city hall asking how employees are doing. An honest would be: You want to fire me, how do you think Im doing?

Those who think they're "safe" just because they're division is busy are sadly mistaken! They are trying to break you and you're involved in fighting back, they will break your spirit.

Take for example the good news employees got yesterday with the city's loss at court. As soon as they got that, $3,000 a WEEK lobdell put something out to bring the employees right back down! The friday e-briefings are pathetic and the recent words describing employees made me throw up in my mouth. If they truly felt that the employees were that good, why are they working so hard to outsource them? Think about it. Look at the money they're spending everyday. Jones Day is not cheap and Jones & Mayer is over $100,000 month.

You know when its over when they finally cancel the layoffs and present something to the union. For those who think its the unions fault and that somehow the union should start talking to the city, then you're in la la land. What is there to talk about? It's not about money! If it's about money, don't you thibk they could have simply made an offer by now? There is nothing put their political agendas that is keeping the council from making an offer to the employees.

Bottom line people, if you still don't get that its not about money then you need to really wake up and get involved in the fight! Dont know how you can help? Then reach out and ask your union president who seems to be the only one besides ocea who is fighting for all of you!

8/27/2011 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Doomsday said...

Simple and Simple is right...You are both absolutely right. Hatch is one of the litigants fighting OCEA in this outsourcing fiasco, yet in the e-briefing he tells employees how much he appreciates them in these trying times. He says how much they are going to miss the Senior Park Supervisor who is leaving for another City as he was such an asset, yet he was one of those who received a layoff notice. These e-briefings are such bs and Hatch knows it.

8/29/2011 12:46:00 PM  

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